Rationalizing Inequality

I’ve recently become acquainted with what has been called a prayer of repentance that is posted on the website for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). In the prayer, the author makes the following declaration:

“We repent for the sins of our chauvinist brothers, covering up abuse in the name of authority and male leadership.” (reference)

Is it good to repent of “covering up abuse in the name of authority”? Of course. Is “covering up abuse,” however, an accurate definition of what it means to be a chauvinist? Actually, no it’s not.  The term has a much broader meaning.

According to the Oxford dictionary, male chauvinism is “male prejudice against women; the belief that men are superior in terms of ability, intelligence, etc.” (reference)

Another post on the CBMW website explains why they believe all women are supposed to function as subordinate “helpers” to men:

“Yet in passing through ‘helpful’ animals to woman, God teaches us that the woman is a man’s ‘helper’ in the sense of a loyal and suitable assistant in the life of the garden.” (reference)

Men, apparently, are to look at how the first man, Adam, related to “helpful animals” in the Garden of Eden to understand how men should relate to women.

One of the earliest members of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper, offers the following explanation for what he sees as the necessity of male leadership in the church:

“And God intends for all the ‘weaknesses’ that characteristically belong to woman to call forth and highlight man’s strengths.”  (reference)

Helpful animals? Characteristic weaknesses? Are these comments evidence of an attitude that is prejudiced against women? In my opinion, yes they are. In other words, they are examples of male chauvinism.

Should the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood repent of chauvinism? Yes, I believe they should. Rather than inaccurately limiting their understanding of chauvinism, however, I believe they should acknowledge and forsake their prejudiced belief that women may not share authority with men because of alleged “characteristic weaknesses.” I believe they should also ask forgiveness for suggesting that men should pattern their relationships with women based on how they may relate to “helpful animals.”

A similar form of rationalization can be found on a website for Mars Hill churches. The website claims that they are not a hierarchical institution. They then proceed to define what it means to be “hierarchical” very narrowly: “Women are not permitted to be an elder or deacon, serve Communion, teach men, lead worship, pray or speak in the church service, etc.” (reference)

If women are not allowed to be elders, deacons, serve communion, teach men, lead worship etc., would this be an example of a hierarchical institution? Yes, certainly. Are all of these restrictions necessary, however, for a church organization to accurately be referred to as hierarchical? No, they aren’t.

According to an online dictionary a hierarchy is “any system of persons or things ranked one above another.” (reference)

In Mars Hill ministries are men ranked above women? Yes, they are. According to their website, “only qualified men should be elders-pastors.” (reference)

Only male “elders preach, enforce formal church discipline, and set doctrinal standards for the church.” Mars Hill insists on a model of “male leadership in the governments of home and church.”  (reference)  Is this an example of a hierarchy based on sex? Evidently, yes. It is therefore a “hierarchical” model of governance, despite the organization’s claims to the contrary. An organization that is governed exclusively by men is properly referred to as a patriarchy. (reference)

In the case of both websites (CBMW and Mars Hill), the same rationalization strategy is used to obscure the reality that women may not share authority with men, simply because they are women. Definitions of social injustices such as chauvinism and a male-dominated hierarchy are artificially narrowed to apparently exclude these organizations.

In my experience as an educator and a psychotherapist, it tends to be the case that those who attempt to rationalize their own hurtful or offensive behaviour largely succeed in deceiving only themselves. My hope is that both the CBMW and Mars Hill will stop pointing fingers at someone else’s brand of chauvinism and inequality, and finally someday recognize and repent of their own.